‘A Comedy of Tenors’ is Fast and Furious at Paper Mill Playhouse

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MILLBURN, NJ – Following up on his earlier farce, “Lend Me a Tenor,” playwright Ken Ludwig has written a sequel with equally zany scenarios of mistaken identities and slapstick actions.
But the problem with any farce is that it needs a light touch. In this case, while the actors work hard and all have excellent timing, the pitch is on high throughout. There’s never a quiet moment or conversation that isn’t over the top.
The plot centers on a three-tenor concert, with various mishaps as the singers either don’t arrive, go off in a huff or are otherwise compromised. Michael Kostroff is the producer, Saunders, who is at his wits end in trying to put this performance on stage. One performer has already backed out, so he engages his assistant, Max (David Josefsberg), to fill in.
The famous singer, Tito, played by John Treacy Egan has arrived in Paris with his wife, but mistakenly thinks she is cheating on him when he sees her helping Carlo (Ryan Silverman) who is in love with their daughter Mimi (Jill Paice). Tito goes off in a huff and refuses to be in the concert.  Paice is fetching in a costume she wears while auditioning for a French production. She’s certainly in the spirit of it all when she jumps off the balcony.
Saunders still needs a replacement for Tito. Who should appear, but a hotel porter, who looks much like Tito and has a naturally robust voice.  Egan is no doubt the star of this convoluted play, appearing in both parts while never losing the difference between the two characters…or even getting out of breath with all those costume changes.
Coming somewhat later is Tatiana Racon, a Russian actress/singer played by Donna English. She recalls a love affair with Tito and mistakes the porter for the famous tenor. English has a wonderful sultry presence and her line “Men are being afraid of me. I am not knowing why” neatly describes her overbearing libido. There’s a lot going on as Maria, Tito’s wife, and Racon both think they’re involved with the same person. Judy Blazer perfectly captures the emotional fallout of putting up with Tito and his ego.
Like any farce worth its weight (or lightness), the confusion keeps building. Silverman is suave and delightful as Carlo, having recently been in the acclaimed “Finian’s Rainbow” at Irish Repertory Theatre. Most of the cast and director were in the earlier production at Paper Mill in “Lend Me a Tenor” so this is no doubt a joyful reunion.
Don Stephenson has directed his excellent cast with verve. Still, it’s so over the top that there’s no opportunity to build from quiet scenes to high emotion.
Costumes by Mariah Hale are mostly stunning and understated when that makes sense. Michael Schweikardt’s set is an elegant Paris suite with chandeliers, a view of the Eiffel Tower, bouquets of flowers and high end touches. There’s also a buffet laden with French food and the pickled tongue plays a major role.  The play is set in 1936.
The tenors do have strong, appealing voices when they have a few moments of operatic harmony. Their rendition of “The Drinking Song” from La Traviata is thrilling. The final curtain call is another opportunity for a kind of fast-forward repetition of door slamming, slapping and fainting, as you see highlights of the plot flashing by.
The standing ovation on opening night proves that Ludwig’s non-stop farce is sure to be a hit. His “Murder on the Orient Express,”  based on Agatha Christie’s play, opens at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton in March.   A local production of “Moon over Buffalo” will be at the local Chatham Playhouse later this month. So the prolific playwright continues to be a draw throughout New Jersey.
Performances continue through Feb. 26 at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn. For tickets, call 973-379-3636 or visit papermill.org.

Liz Keill reviews professional theatre in the New Jersey area, ranging from the McCarter Theatre in Princeton to Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn. In addition to writing for Tapinto.net, she does theatre analysis for HometowneTV in Summit. She holds a Bachelor's in Journalism from Penn State and a Master's in Communication from Syracuse University. Liz is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, which holds seminars at regional theatres across the country as well as in New York City.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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